(Selected text from Wilson's opening statement)
KEVIN WILSON: "Tough go at the end, just to execute and something that we needed to do, that kind of happens, and we've got to coach and call better plays and put them in better spots and we've got to make plays too.
"Yesterday had some light work, kind of trying to keep our guys focused, fresh. Thought our energy was really pretty good. Some things we've got to correct and clean up and coach better and some mistakes they've got to fix. But at the same time, the effort and the way those guys played was very much what we're trying to build our team on.
"We talked a lot about four weeks to go. Two thirds of the season. Prognosticators would say everything's over. But in our world, there is a lot of football to play, lot of things we can accomplish. Best thing to do, our constant goal is consistent improvement, constant improvement. Two weeks in a row we played a pretty good team. Got them into the fourth quarter. Hadn't been able to get over the hump. We got a couple good wins this year against a couple good teams, but we're getting close. We're in those games and our deal is we've got to keep fighting and pushing to knock that thing down.
"I wouldn't say we're blowing games as much as we're playing some good teams, getting in close games, not executing at the end. Got to make a play, got to make good play calls, got to get stops. Got to play O and D. But the teams are right there. That is our deal. We're at that part of the race where you can keep pushing or stop, and we've come too far to stop pushing.
"I expect Illinois to come much like us, hungry teams. And I think it's going to be a good challenge, exciting game at 3:30. We're down to two at home, and we need another good crowd to get some energy in the stands for the guys this week. Questions?''
(Coach, what is the mindset? Can you talk a little bit about the fighting and pushing and that sort of thing? How does your team come back yesterday after that kind of a loss?)
WILSON: "That's a tough deal of course. You want them to hurt a little. The locker room was hurting a lot because it was like, hey, man, that's the first time I've ever seen it like that. Because that was a game we wanted, we had a chance, and we just weren't able.
"We had chances all game. We had a missed touchdown opportunity in the first drive. So we can talk about the last blunder, all it was. But we gave ourselves a chance by it. So we tried to, late Saturday night snap out of it. Tried to ride the coaches. Saying, these kids are giving us a good go, they're fighting. We have to keep coaching them better and pushing them to do better. There is a lot of positive energy, and we have all of our guys in all phases of our program behind them, so let's keep pushing.
"Last night at dinner, it wasn't quiet. At the same time it wasn't goofing and laughing like it was fun. But they were talking and watching the pro game. It was good. We had our workout. We didn't overdo a lot. We just got them really loose, and lifted and tried to get some sorts out and got into the tape work.
"I think in talking to them they appeared good. It will be interesting Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. These guys have worked hard. So we're trying to practice, trying to coach these guys like they're winning, because I think they're giving us a winning effort. We've got to put them in good places and building on our strengths and making corrections and we've got to keep working it together. We've got to get some Ws for these guys down the stretch.
"I thought it was not positive, but I didn't think it was a bad day. We'll see how we go tomorrow as we work through the week.''
(The coaching staff comes from a lot of different varied backgrounds. But from a fan standpoint, do you think it's possible to understand the breadth and depth of the frustration from a fan base that desperately wants you to do well, but continues to come up short, not just this year but in the past as well?)
WILSON: "I can appreciate and understand that. At the same time I saw the crowd that was standing there. We had the last play and it was a chance to make a good comeback. What you need to look at is Ted Bolser and Stephen Houston if you want those guys, because they've been running all the sprints and doing all the work.
"Again, we're making some gains, but we've got to get Ws. The Ws will be more for the outside world and the seniors. My feel is we've got some great opportunities. Let's keep it because we're right there knocking on it. Let's keep knocking on it and knocking down.
"There is a lot of football to play, two thirds of the season. Four weeks to go. Two great home games, two great road travels. But it comes back to let's get back to this week. We tried not to get rid of the Minnesota game. We went back and said look at all the good things you're doing here. Look at 15 minutes 51 seconds, it's 26-0, and you're flat out rolling in all phases. Look at the first half, we're out of sync, can you give us some things? We had a critical error in the end. If you get in a one possession game, but because of their effort and fight, they gave us a one possession deal. I appreciate the fans and feel for them. All I know is those guys give it a good go. Our staff, I'm almost worried that sometimes our staff works too much. Like get away, go get a workout. They'll be here till midnight. You know what you're doing, you know the plays you're going to run, and get these kids behind you in playing order. That's the part of me I feel for fans. But I'm telling you, these guys are close, and it's my job to keep it coming. We can get close and fall short or we can get close and keep coming. My deal is let's don't change. Let's keep fighting and competing. To me, it's the hardest step because it's the next step. We've gotten to the point, and it's nice to feel some frustration, because there is a point in time I don't know if anyone really cares sometimes.
"I kind of like some fans that are upset. That's what you want. You want them in the stands. You want them loud. You want them critical. That is part of a good football program is you have to energize fans.
"They're reading your stuff. They're on the message boards. They're calling into the call in shows. We'll get our two calls a night. Why are you doing this, what are you thinking, great job, why did you do that? What about this? That is the part of the game. It goes with it. It's what you want. You want callers that are critical. What are you thinking here and there? It's nice because that's part of winning.
"To me, again, I think in general we've all come, and we've all got to keep coming. Like I said earlier, the best way to do it is to do it together. I'm going to keep it as much downstairs. It's not just them and patting the seniors on the back. These guys have gotten us close. We're right there. We need to make that step. And the more people with us, the easier it's going to be. But which came first, the chicken or the egg? Bottom line, we've got to win. It's all going to come easier after that. That is the hard step, the winning step. There is not one reason we're losing. We're not playing well enough. Is it lack of poor play calling? Is it more coach management? Is it lack of players? Is it injuries you're coming up short? It's a combination of all because we're collectively a part of the problem, and we're collectively the answer. That is our deal.
"You saddle the horses and you rally them up and circle the wagons and keep fighting and punching, and that will be the plan this week and that will be the plan through this season. Then you can regroup and see where you're at and assess and adjust your recruiting. Right now, you're right there, keep going and give ourselves a chance. If we don't, we give ourselves no chance. These players who give us a chance, and as a coach I've got to keep us going. That has been my mojo the last two days.
(As you watched that last play on tape, what went through your mind after the game?)
WILSON: "We're coming off a timeout. They take a timeout, and they took one, actually gave them a chance to get their call up. They had played basically a man coverage, the play before, two man. They showed the same look. We called a play to beat the coverage and off that triggered two blitzers. We didn't block it right off the backside in protection, so the quarterback is feeling a little he throws it a little quicker. The guy comes off the edge, Tevin bellies out to get away from it. Nate feels it and throws a little quick. Now it's a backwards pass, and it shouldn't be. But it was one of those where we didn't do a good job as coaches. We got bluffed. We're in a no play call too. Did a great job. Coach Claeys said they took a timeout to get it in.
"The play before they had done it. We ran it down there pretty good. Then I'm seeing the ball coming to them, and I want to run out and get the sucker because it was actually about, I mean, I almost ran on the field because I could see the ball. But, again, just poor play calling on our part. I had the opportunity. As coaches we all do it together. Could have changed it, could have executed it better. That to me doesn't minimize why our kids didn't get us back. That's why I went back and said okay, got down there, called the right play, didn't execute it good because of what happened. We had one busted coverage on the drive before, but other than that, there is a 25 , 20 minute mark where we're playing against a good team, lights out football. High level football. We've got work to do that more consistently, more often because we're going to need that this week and on these road games and we'll need it in the game.
(You talked about wanting it to hurt a little bit. But when you got in that locker room, how fast did you make the read that we've got to accentuate the positives here?)
WILSON: "Really not until later that night. Then tried to start reaching out to guys, let's get them going, and with the team yesterday. So I think everybody was emotionally and physically exhausted and drained. Fans were, you guys were. Again, there are no moral victories because I'm not into that. It is what it is. We're here to win. We're building up, getting close, but we're here to win. Coming up short is not acceptable. Not acceptable by me, not acceptable by our administration. Not acceptable by the standards of the school, and the school is pretty good at some things, and it's our job to get it there.
"We've gotten a little closer, but we've got to keep on coming. Again, there are a lot of things that needed to be corrected. We had a lot of direct, straight criticism yesterday on things that needed to be corrected. For example, we have certain guys that need to quit worrying if they're better than someone else and start being the best that you can, and start beating yourself up, start playing as well as you can. Don't worry about how Tevin Coleman is doing, Stephen, you do as good as you can and see what that is. You take care of you. You beat yourself up. You make tomorrow better individually. You make tomorrow better in practice as a team. That's what we talked about. Here's where we are. We've come. Our constant goal was constant improvement, and we need to see what we did well. See what we need to improve on, and let's go do it this way. It was a pretty direct meeting. It wasn't like, hey, feel good for us. No, that stunk. There was a lot of bad football in that game. A lot. A lot of bad coaching, lot of bad playing, lot of bad execution. There was a period of time it was pretty doggone good. How do we accentuate that and learn from the mistakes? We don't acknowledge that the mistakes didn't happen. Don't acknowledge that, no. These are things you cannot go as an offense and have five consecutive punts with our style and expect to have the outcome you want. To overcome that shows a lot about the kids and what they're capable of.''
(You've said the quarterbacks are getting in their head a little bit, who is playing, who is not. Has that gotten more difficult to handle?)
WILSON: "It is because of you guys because everybody's on the phone. Everybody goes to Twitter and everybody's got comments whether it be a personal rip of him or an article you guys write saying this guy should be here, that guy should be here. So it's hard. Quit comparing yourself. Quit worrying about it. You're going to do this. The whole world does this. Go to an airport and nobody talks. You're going to do that. That's okay to do that.
"But at the end of the day it comes down to you need to make sure you look in the mirror. I had a better meeting than I did yesterday. I had a better lift. I warmed up in warm ups better today than I did the day before, whatever my role is on the field.
I went back and shared the story a few years ago. We were playing and Tebow won the Heisman, then Bradford won the Heisman. We were getting ready to play, and a guy asked Sam, compare yourself to Tebow. And you want him to say, I'm a little bit of a throw guy and he's a running type guy, which is I'm sure the direction. Because every time you ask a question, there is a slant to your article, and we need to validate your slant when you ask the question, right?
And he had the greatest answer I heard a kid say: I don't compare myself to anyone. I'm just trying to be the best I can be. I'm just trying to take care of myself. I'm not trying to be better than any one. I'm not trying to be better than him. I'm just trying to be my best. And that's what I shared with the quarterbacks yesterday. Let's just start worrying about you. You be better than you. Quit worrying about him, me, the offense, you just take care of you. Individualists take care of individuals. Let's coach better, play better. Let's do it as an O, let's do it as a D, let's come along in kicking. Again, it's not like there are issues. It's just hard in this day and age when you want to be the guy. The best way to be the guy, I can tell you today, LeBron James has fundamentally awesome practices. Kevin Durant is working his tail off at a high level. There is a reason Tom Brady went from splitting time in Michigan to a Hall of Fame guy. There are reasons why. There are reasons why Peyton Manning was and is what he is. There is a reason. Every day the first golf lesson you had is grip and stance. And the greatest players ever are looking at their grip and stance every second, every day. It's keep working on fundamentals, and keep buying the process, keep coming. That was the direction from yesterday. We changed what we're doing. We have things we've got to fix, short things to fix, you just worry about you. You watch those guys, they're chest bumping everybody and high fiving everybody. They're good teammates.
"My comment to them yesterday, and again, Tre was a little bit off early, and actually helped us in the second half set some things up. Nate came in and played well. They're both capable, both a little inconsistent, and we're going to keep them coming. There are no problems, no controversy. We're not mad at them, I just want them to get better. That's my job and I expect them to.